Win, Lose or Draw Late

Wednesday, April 28, 2004 by

The slide of the daytime quiz show from ubiquity to near-extinction is one of those TV phenomena to be lamented. Where once there was a parade of formats covering all points from the irritating to the inspired, now you’ll be lucky to stumble on just one brightly-coloured over-lit studio replete with attentive audience and bucolic host before teatime. Whether down to chance or conspiracy, an entire class of programming appears to have passed from our screens. Moreover, it wasn’t one that was anywhere near the end of its notional life span. Your standard assembly of daytime quizzery included just as much as gold dust as grit be it five or 15 years ago.

Win, Lose or Draw is the key example. STV churned out numerous series for almost a decade, but when the show ended its run (as recently as 1998) it was still in fine shape. If anything from this most sprawling of telly genres deserved to be subject to a revival, this programme was surely the one: the most durable and untrammelled of premises (Pictionary on the small screen), the most everyday yet avuncular of celebrity contestants (either on the way up or the way down, who therefore couldn’t take their appearances for granted), and the most sharp-witted and articulate of hosts (Danny Baker and Bob Mills) with the potential for the most enduring and catchy of conceits (“Waistcoat Wednesday”, “250 of your Earth pounds”, even “Close your eyes … open ‘em again”).

Imagine, then, the pleasant surprise and keen anticipation on hearing the news that Win, Lose or Draw was indeed to be resurrected this spring. Imagine too the subsequent plummet of expectation at hearing that it was not returning to its former home, but was actually destined for a late night slot, and would accordingly be blessed with a new “risqué” remit. Scottish would produce, as before, and the studio set would comprise sofas, scatter cushions and flip chart, again as before. An erstwhile graduate of the series was even assigned the role of host: Liza Tarbuck. Yet even before it began it was impossible to avoid a creeping sense that the odds on it matching the affability of its previous incarnation would be less than negligible.

The very fact the revival seemed to have been borne not out of anything constructive, but instead from ITV1′s lack of success in receiving pitches for shows to plug holes in its night-time schedules, helped prepare the ground for a thorough and complete letdown – which the show, when it finally arrived, was more than happy to cultivate. So far Win, Lose or Draw Late has been so effective in vaporising every possible positive association with its former self you might be forgiven for assuming there is some calculation, some grand scheme underpinning proceedings. After all, even the most hapless subterfuge can be traced back to the germs of a plan. But no. Since this series began it hasn’t felt like anybody’s got a clue why they are taking part, what they’re supposed to be proving, how they should behave within the construct of the format, and most fatal of all, what kind of relationship they should be contriving with the ever-dwindling audience at home.

The latest edition opened with an air already thick with hubris even before Tarbuck strolled onto camera clutching a half-drunk glass of red wine. There’s virtually nothing worse than watching famous people getting pissed on TV with total disregard to their surroundings or the viewers. As the guests stumbled on, Tarbuck boomed, “We’re having a right old mix and mingle – hope you are too,” a knotty comment (did she want us to get up and go and socialise with the next door neighbour?) rendered all the more perverse by the fact the studio audience responded to it with a gale of laughter. This was somewhat disconcerting: where was the joke? At least one viewer felt they were missing out, but at the same time was already feeling mightily glad not to be numbered amongst the in-house tittering throng. In the glory days, Win, Lose or Draw rather melodramatically used to bar the studio exits during recording to make sure audiences stayed for the lengthy multiple tapings. Nowadays such measures are presumably underpinned by somewhat more short-term rationale.

None of the raucous guests merited either sympathy or interest, unlike in the past where majestic displays of penmanship and wry banter instantly won easy points with the armchair millions. “Risqué” has turned out to mean vulgar in the most lazy senses. This week the contrived attempts at swearing – Ed Hall intoning “he’s too pissed” four times in a row – and references to body parts – tales about colonic irrigation – culminated in the predictable endless mentions of penises. The word “cocktail” inspired an etching of a huge phallus; “Italian Stallion” warranted the order “draw the balls”; and at one point Tarbuck announced to camera “It’s late night Win, Lose or Draw, it’s all about knobs.” The final speed round required the scribbling of so many private parts it was difficult to know where to look.

The added irony, were more needed, is that that original, unsullied version of the show would’ve probably fared pretty well late at night, its freewheeling exchanges, erudition and playful intentions handing it a great deal of distinction and personality amidst the bulk of your average midnight hour efforts. Instead this bowdlerised adaptation with a complete absence of coherence or identity does nothing in the way of demanding to be watched, and in fact ends up most resembling the universal stereotype of a daytime TV programme: vapid, forgettable, insufferable. Except most daytime shows have not just decent production values and an audience in mind, but a point as well.

It can’t be called a failure, because it doesn’t set out to succeed at anything. If Win, Lose or Draw Late aspired towards some tangible objective, be it positive or negative, it might be possible to draw a wisp of reward from the pitiful yet practical business of charting by just how titanic a distance that objective fails to be accomplished. But since there’s no end towards which the show is striving, the means aren’t worth bothering with either. The worthlessness of it all defies engagement on any kind of level: you can’t watch this ironically, or cynically, or sympathetically, least alone enthusiastically. There’s no return on your investment as a viewer; you’re left seething that a programme so inconsequential could rob you both of half an hour you’re never going to get back and an indecent amount of your patience. You’re also left resenting the fact that you’ve got so resentful in the first place.

If there’s one palpable response Win, Lose or Draw Late might just encourage on the part of those who not only tune in but who are successful in finding a reason to stick with each edition to the end (because the show certainly doesn’t give you one), it’s regret. Regret at the sight of seeing ITV1′s most superlative daytime quiz show stripped of every single one of its amusing and appealing elements through a combination of what appears to be unforgivable accident, half-arsed design or both. The result, an unwieldy rotting wreck it’s likely no-one will have the inclination or resources to deem worth salvaging, will stay berthed in its graveyard slot until it perishes, hopefully in as unnoticeable a manner possible. The programme has the nerve to challenge that most basic of expectations: that you can switch the TV on and, regardless of time and channel, expect at the very least to be entertained, distracted, preoccupied. That it can so defy precedent, yet dare to flaunt such a lack of substance and purpose at the same time, renders it amongst some of the worst television currently on air. Nothing can save it, not even 250 of your Earth pounds.


Comments are closed.